CLEVELAND — From April 29-May 1, 259 hopefuls will listen for their name to be called from the stage along Cleveland’s lakefront at the 2021 NFL Draft. For AJ Rose, that moment will mean even more being amplified across his hometown.
A Cleveland native, Rose began playing football when he was 5 years old, a sport that continued to grow on him throughout his childhood. Rose was involved in Boy Scouts and played other sports like track and basketball, but it was in his teens when Rose realized how passionate he really was about the game.
“The moment that I knew I wanted to play football hit me my freshman year in high school. Just seeing people in the stands. It was a different vibe from playing Muny League and Pop Warner—it was more competitive, going against players from all around different cities and areas, getting to meet new players, new people. I think that's when it really hit me,” Rose said. “I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
At Garfield Heights High School, Rose threw himself into the game. The running back was quick, strong, and versatile—even stepping in at quarterback where he threw for 616 yards and 10 touchdowns with 94 rushes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Finishing his high school career with a conference championship, a Division II playoff appearance, an invitation to the 2016 Ohio High Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Classic, and a 3-star ranking, Rose was off to play college ball.
While Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota were all on the table, Rose committed to the University of Kentucky his junior year.
“I got coached great by the great coaches up there at Garfield Heights. Those men made me who I was and put me in the position to go play at the University of Kentucky, to succeed there,” Rose said.
Rose chose Kentucky to be his home away from home—a true college town with a passionate fan base.
“There's no NBA teams, NFL teams, nothing like that, just a straight college town. So people down there love college football and college basketball. I just felt like that was the best place for me to be,” Rose said. “And I wasn't too far away from home. My parents would always come see me play, traveling wasn't too crazy, but I got a big support system so everybody could make it to my games."
During his time at Kentucky, Rose posted 1,971 career rushing yards and ranked No. 10 on the school’s all-time list, averaged 5.8 yards per attempt with seven career 100-yard games, and notched 30 receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown.
Now, fresh out of college and ready to make his way into the NFL, Rose has spoken with all 32 teams—but no matter where he ends up he’s ready to make an impact.
“I just want to be in a position to play football, so anybody who wants me are willing to pick me up, I'd be forever grateful for that,” Rose said. “Any team that watched my film, viewed me and knows about my style of running and that needs me to be in their offense, I'd be blessed to be there.”
Rose is confident that he has put his best product out there during his Pro Day and hopes that one of the 32 teams sees that and decides he’s a fit for their organization.
“As I got going and my blood got flowing, the nervousness went away. I feel like my overall performance was great. I shocked a lot of people, turned a lot of heads and any concern that they had about me, I think I answered those,” Rose said.
Rose will watch the draft from his home in Garfield Heights surrounded by family, hoping his dreams become reality.
And if you hadn’t heard his name before, there’s one thing Rose wants you to know:
“To people that don't know me, let me introduce myself: I'm AJ Rose and I'm a playmaker.”
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Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.